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Taking points off the board: Broncos force four turnovers in key moments

DENVER — Ben Roethlisberger never saw him.

That’s how it seemed, anyway.

First, the setting: Third-and-goal from the 2-yard line. One minute, seven seconds remaining in the game. Steelers down seven points to the Broncos.

Roethlisberger took the snap and faked a handoff to James Conner on a read-pass option as Will Parks crashed down from the left side to set the edge. The Steelers quarterback looked back up to see Antonio Brown breaking toward the middle of the end zone with Bradley Roby in coverage.

He zipped the ball toward the end zone, trying to cap a comeback drive.

But he didn’t account for Harris. 

“I don’t know [if he saw me],” Harris said later, “but the ball saw me.”

Harris, who had backpedaled from the line, leapt up to secure the ball and then fell to the ground with the interception, the first of his career and the Broncos’ fourth turnover of the game.

They needed each to seal a 24-17 win over the Steelers, each to earn another victory against a team in the playoff hunt.

“All four turnovers were in the high red zone, so we took points off the board all four times,” Head Coach Vance Joseph said after the game. “And the blocked field goal by Justin [Simmons]. That’s five plays that could’ve been scoring plays. That was huge for us tonight.”

The four turnovers — and the blocked field goal — helped offset the glob of yards the Steelers gained Sunday. Roethlisberger passed the ball 56 times for 462 yards and a touchdown as Pittsburgh gathered a handful of chunk plays, including a 97-yard touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster.

But for all the yardage, the Steelers often failed to score points when presented with valuable opportunities.

Early in the second quarter, Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble found himself wide open after a play-action fake and raced toward the end zone. But safety Will Parks met him at the goal line and knocked the ball loose into the end zone. The play was ruled a touchback, and a 74-yard drive ended with no points.

In the third quarter, Roethlisberger was picked off by Chris Harris Jr. at the Denver 42-yard line. If the Steelers had scored points on the drive, they would’ve taken a two-possession lead. Instead, the Broncos put an abrupt end to a drive that started at the Pittsburgh 23-yard line.

Two Pittsburgh drives later, Roethlisberger found Conner on second-and-16 for 23 yards from the Denver 46-yard line. As Conner sped toward the end zone, Pittsburgh appeared to be on the verge of taking another late lead. But Roby laid a big hit on Conner, and the ball popped loose. Darian Stewart eventually recovered the fumble. Forty more yards, no points.

Then, on the last defensive snap of the game, Shelby Harris erased a drive that traveled 60 yards.

That’s 209 yards allowed, zero points. Add in the blocked field goal, and that number jumps to 256.

“It’s all about offense and scoring and moving the football, so defensively we’ve got to be better,” safety Justin Simmons said. “Point blank. Period. In terms of turnovers and keeping them out of the end zone, I thought we did a great job.’

And the turnovers did more than just prevent the Steelers from building a lead. They gave Case Keenum and the Broncos’ offense enough chances to win the game.

On Sunday, the offense turned those four turnovers and a blocked field goal into 17 points. The Broncos had just one other scoring drive, but that was enough to beat the Steelers.

“Those are huge, huge plays in the game, just like last week, when Von intercepts it [against the Chargers],” Keenum said. “Those things can turn the tide of games and big-time players like that — Chris Harris, Von — making plays like that, that's huge for our team.”

For the second time this season, the Broncos earned a plus-four turnover margin. The last time they did so, they blew out the Cardinals in Arizona.

This game wasn’t nearly as lopsided, but the turnovers were equally as important in finding a victory.

“We just need to get them more touches, and we know that,” Simmons said. “We know if we give them the ball more, more often than not, we’ll be able to win games. That’s what happened today.”

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